A recent trip to Phoenix with a visit to the White Sox Spring training camp stirred up some memories. Being a White Sox fan and dreaming of someday being a Sox third baseman was a big part of my life as a child.
I remember my dad taking me to my first game in 1943. It was war time but President Franklin Delano Roosevelt thought baseball should continue; it would be a valuable diversion in a difficult era. The Allies were moving on Italy. The Germans occupied the “boot” and in October Italy deported over 1000 Jews from Rome to Auschwitz without a complaint by Pius XII.
My younger brother and I were not entirely shielded from the horrors happening in Europe and the Far East. We had uncles in the military and prayed for them every night. My uncle Harold survived the Normandy invasion and the Battle of the Bulge. After the war he made sure I understood what had happened in the concentration camps. He showed me concentration camps photos which are burned in my memory.
|Uncle Harold with Johnny(left) and me(right).|
I was eight; Dad told me he would take me to a game if I could recite to him the White Sox starting line-up. I passed the test and the date was set during Dad’s vacation time. He was a switchman on the Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad. Dad often said there would be no vacation if it were not for F.D.R.
My mother told me not to tell my younger brother Johnny that Dad was taking me to a ballgame. But I did anyway. Why would a 4 year old care? John, who through the years was a much more loyal White Sox fan than me, remembered the incident all his life. We talked about it and laughed, but it was painful for both of us.
Mom drove us to the ‘El’ station in Oak Park. For me riding the El was a drama in itself. Speeding along - above the traffic was exciting. I wore shorts and remember the wicker-covered El seats.
We arrived at Comiskey Park early for the game against the Philadelphia A’s.
As we walked to our 3rd base box seats we encountered an old man with a straw hat. It was Connie Mack, manager of the A’s and one of the founders of the American League. My dad was called ‘Bud’ by friends and relatives. Dad greeted Mr. Mack – “Hi Connie,” and he responded, “Hi Bud, how are you?” I was more than somewhat impressed.
To see the field and sense the magic was overwhelming. I saw Luke Appling, not drafted in the Army yet, won the American League batting title with a 328 average that season. Other stars like Williams, DiMaggio and Bob Feller were in the military. Heroes such as Hard Luck Eddie Smith, The Blue Island Bird Dog – Don Kolloway and Bill Bullfrog (he had bulging eyes) Dietrich were right in front of me. Dad went down to the field to talk to White Sox coach Muddy Ruel. I never found out how he knew Muddy Ruel. We saw seventeen year old Casmir Kwietniewtski who played several games that year. He changed his name to Cass Michaels and was an outstanding post war player.
Late in the game the White Sox got to Don Black, the A’s pitcher. During the rally I shouted, “Come on Lu-u-uke,” when Appling was up. It was a hot night and I could see Black was exhausted. The A’s called in a relief pitcher and as Black walked off the mound to the dugout the Sox fans clapped for him. It took a couple of days and some discussion before I accepted my dad’s explanation of sportsmanship and why you would give a hand to an opposing pitcher.
The excitement wore me out, and despite the wicker seat, I fell asleep on the El on the trip home.
A wonderful White Sox team won the World Series in 2005, but I still remember the line–up of the 4th place White Sox of 1943.
Visiting the White Sox Spring Training Complex in Phoenix was loads of fun and it brought back precious memories. Carson Fulmer, a top pitching prospect, generously shared a few minutes with my youngest brother Jim and me; we are grateful. My advice to Carson: look to Ted Lyons, the Baylor Bear Cat, for inspiration.
Jim Lange(left), with me and Carson Fulmer